Calf interacting with a juvenile  Calf and mahout playing in river  Training session  Street view with elephant  Mahout on a male elephant  Mahout with a juvenile male

Elephant Experts
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Group photo of a workshop at Elephant Breeding Centre, Chitwan, Nepal
Some of our people and partners together with mahouts of the Elephant Breeding Centre in Chitwan, Nepal.


Dr. Susan MikotaDr. Susan Mikota is co-founder and Director of Veterinary Programs and Research for Elephant Care International, and a member of the Asian Elephant Specialist Group of the Internatrional Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). She directs the ongoing programme to diagnose and treat tuberculosis in mahouts and elephants in Nepal. She has created and maintains the world's largest bibliographic database on elephant healthcare, and has written two books on elephant healthcare. She has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for her earlier work with Sumatran elephants.

Kristiina MikkolaKristiina Mikkola is a development cooperation consultant with more than two decades of experience, including four years with UNDP in Nepal. Her skills include participatory methods and facilitation, capacity assessments and capacity building, techniques for objective evaluation of project progress, results and impact, and production of training materials and manuals. She has designed, managed and monitored projects funded by bilateral and multilateral agencies such as FAO, UNDP, Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Finland and others. Her areas of expertise include sustainable development, environmental governance and sustainable livelihoods.

Assistants and translators in the Nepal programme

For our workshops and other interactions in the field, we recruit talented people from the country to provide practical assistance. In our Nepal programme, we mostly select them from two groups: ethnic Tharus with family ties to the mahout community and culture, and students in veterinary medicine and other relevant fields.

Sudhir YadavNirvay SahAnisha PokharelOur most recent field team was assisted by the students pictured on the left: Sudhir Yadav is a student in veterinary medicine, a proprietor of the Namaste Vet Clinic, and the President of the Nepali branch of the International Veterinary Students’ Association. In addition to translating and assisting during our work, he has participated in our research and in organizing our guest lectures at the Institute of Agriculture and Animal Science. Nirvay Sah is a student in veterinary medicine. In addition to translating and assisting, he has also participated in documenting our work on photos and video. Anisha Pokharel is a student in forestry, whose interests also include birds and writing. In addition to translating during lectures and conversations and assisting, she has also participated in traslating documents for us.

Ranjana PajiyarRanjana Pajiyar has a MSc in environmental management, and strong family ties to the mahout tradition in Nepal. Her late grandfather was the head of the Elephant Breeding Centre in Chitwan. She had a key role in getting our programme established during its first years in Nepal, as our first translator, assistant and coordinator, as well as a cultural bridge between our Western team members and the mahout community. Now employed as an Urban Governance Expert in eastern Nepal, away form the key elephant areas, she continues to remain in occasional contact and exchange of information.

During previous years, translation and assistance has also been carried out by the following: schoolteacher and headmaster Raju Pajiyar and students of developmental sciences and related fields, Rekha Pajiyar and Ramesh Chaudhary, all of whom have the double benefit of having close family ties in the mahout community; as well as veterinarian Dr. Ajit Karna and veterinary students (some of whom have since graduated) Bishwo Bandhu Pokharel, Utsaw Tiwari and Kul Kandel.

Local coordinators in the Nepal programme

The practical arrangements of our field activities in Nepal have mainly been coordinated by our partner organization Green Society Nepal, especially by Birendra Mahato, Bashu Dhungana and Sher Pariyar.

Who we are

Our people include experienced professionals in a range of fields necessary for structured, collaborative development: elephant behaviour, animal training, vocational education, science communication, development cooperation and knowledge on local mahout cultures.

Board of Directors

Helena TelkänrantaHelena Telkanranta, President and Founder of Elephant Experts, is a researcher on animal behaviour at the University of Helsinki in Finland, and an award-winning science writer. Her professional experience also includes planning and coordinating programmes to develop vocational training and best practices, such as programmes using animal behaviour science to reduce animal mortality and injuries in poultry and pig farming, funded by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in Finland. Her special interest is creating new types of win-win solutions and collaborations. While working for WWF in Nepal in 2005, she conceived the novel approach of bringing international experts in elephant training to interact with mahouts in the field. She started developing the programme together with the WWF offices of Nepal and Finland. To ensure continuity and expansion of the programme, in 2008 she founded WEPA (Working Elephant Programme of Asia), the name of which now is Elephant Experts.

Jaana VormistoDr. Jaana Vormisto has a long career in development cooperation. Specializing in sustainable development, she has worked for agencies such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Nepal, the Academy of Finland, Ministry of Environment in Finland, Plan International and others. She has also carried out research in biodiversity of northern forests and rainforests. Currently she is the managing director and co-owner of FIANT Consulting, a development consultation company specializing in sustainable development and inclusion and empowerment of vulnerable groups in society. She has been a board member of WEPA / Elephant Experts since 2009.

  Sandeep KarnaDr. Sandeep Karna is a practicing veterinarian with a special interest in wildlife. He has studied veterinary medicine in Nepal and New Zealand, and currently he works for the Worldwide Veterinary Service. He has been involved in Elephant Experts and its predecessor WEPA since 2010, first as an assistant and translator, then coordinating activities such as organizing our guest lectures for veterinarians and veterinary students at the Institute of Agriculture and Animal Science.

International assistants

Freya Chapman-AmeyFreya Chapman-Amey has a BSc in psychology form the University of Cambridge in the UK, and has volunteered in several projects in South Asia to help children and animals. Her experience also includes teaching and designing surveys. In Elephant Experts, she assists in a variety of tasks, such as communication and research.

Karpagam ChelliahDr. Karpagam Chelliah has
carried out research on the behviour of Asian elephans in the wild, for which she spent two years following wild elephants in Kaziranga National Park in India. In Elephant Experts, she contributes her experience on elephant behaviour to our workshops.

Aija KoskelaAija Koskela divides her time between two occupations; as an animal trainer at the Heureka Science Centre in Finland, and as a research assistant in animal cognition at the University of Helsinki. In Elephant Experts, she is involved in our research programme.

Copyright © Elephant Experts 2014-2016
Photo copyright © Elephant Experts and the photographers:
Minna Tallberg, Helena Telkänranta, Marc Pierard, Karpagam Chelliah,
Nirvay Sah, Sudhir Yadav and Ramesh Belagere